The U.S. process for screening refugees only commences after representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees screens and determines that an individual meets the international standard for refugees: an individual who has a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” 
Once an individual is determined to be a “refugee” by that U.N. agency and is designated for resettlement in the U.S., the U.S. commences its process for screening such an individual before he or she is permitted to come to the U.S. On November 19, 2015, Mr. Simon Henshaw, the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, gave a special briefing on that U.S. process.  Here is what he had to say.
The U.S. “remains deeply committed to safeguarding the American people from terrorists, just as we are committed to providing refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people. We do not believe these goals are mutually exclusive or that either has to be pursued at the expense of the other.”
“All refugees go through the most intensive security screening of any travelers to the [U.S.]. It includes multiple federal intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI Terrorist Screening Center, and the Departments of Homeland Security, State, and Defense. A refugee applicant cannot be approved for travel until all required security checks have been completed and cleared.”
“Syrian refugees go through yet additional forms of security screening. . . . We prioritize admitting the most vulnerable Syrians, including female-headed households, children, survivors of torture, and individuals with severe medical conditions. We have, for years, safely admitted refugees from all over the world, including Syrian refugees, and we have a great deal of experience screening and admitting large numbers of refugees from chaotic environments, including where intelligence holdings are limited.” In addition, the Government continues “to examine options for further enhancements for screening Syrian refugees, the details of which are classified.”
The “Department of Homeland Security has full discretion to deny admission before a refugee comes to the U.S. When in doubt, DHS denies applications on national security grounds and the individual never travels to the [U.S.]. Their decisions are guided by the key principle directed by the President and affirmed throughout the U.S. Government that the safety and security of the American people must come first. The U.S. Government has the sole authority to screen and decide which refugees are admitted to the [U.S.]. Security checks are a shared responsibility between the State Department and DHS.”
“All available biographical and biometric information is vetted against a broad array of law enforcement, intelligence community, and other relevant databases to help confirm a refugee’s identity, check for any criminal or other derogatory information, and identify information that could inform lines of questioning during the interview. DHS conducts extensive in-person interviews of all refugee applicants. Biographic checks against the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System, known as CLASS, which includes watch list information, are initiated at the time of a prescreening carried out by State Department contractors.”
“In addition, the State Department requests security advisory opinions from the law enforcement and intelligence communities for those cases meeting certain criteria. Biometric checks are coordinated by USCIS [U.S. Customs and Immigration Service] using mobile fingerprint equipment and photographs at the time of the interview. These fingerprints are screened against the vast biometric holdings of the FBI, the integrated automated fingerprint identification system, and screened and enrolled in DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System, which is known as IDENT.”
“Through IDENT, applicant fingerprints are screened not only against watch list information, but also for previous immigration encounters in the [U.S.] and overseas, including cases in which the applicant previously applied for a visa at a U.S. embassy. The classified details of the refugee . . . security screen process are regularly shared with relevant congressional committees.”
“The U.S. welcomed 1,682 vulnerable Syrian refugees in Fiscal Year 2015, and the President has directed his team to make preparations to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in Fiscal Year 2016. Measured against more than four million Syrian refugees currently hosted in the Middle East, this is a modest but an important contribution to the global effort to address the Syrian refugee crisis.”
In addition, it has been widely reported that the U.S. screening of an individual Syrian refugee typically takes at least two years.
This account of the screening process should provide assurances to the American public that no additional procedures are necessary and that the recent bill to do that as passed by the House of Representatives is unnecessary.
On June 20th, the United Nations refugee agency (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR) reported that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced (IDPs) people was 51.2 million in 2013. This is the first time after World War II that the number has topped 50 million. (Articles about this report may be found in the New York Times and the Guardian.)
This represented an increase of 6 million over the prior year due largely to the war in Syria and conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Here is a graph showing the totals (with components), 1993-2013:
Here is another graph showing the largest sources of refugees in 2013:
Developing countries host 86% of the world’s refugees. The top five host countries are Pakistan, 1.6 million; Iran, 0.9 million; Lebanon, 0.9 million; Jordan, 0.6 million; and Turkey, o.6 million. The U.S. ranks 10th as a host country with 0.3 million.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said,”We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict. Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.” He added, “The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere. Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors.”
Serge Schmemann of the New York Times editorial board observed that the report indicates that half “the refugees are children; a growing number of these are on their own . . . . More than half of the 6.3 million refugees under the refugee agency’s care have been in exile for five years or more, testifying to conflicts that rage on and on.” Schmemann added that the “stunning figures offer a bitter counterpoint to the growing resistance in Europe and the United States to letting in immigrants and asylum seekers, and to the endless sterile blame-games about responsibility for the various conflicts.”
On May 30, 2013, the U.S. State Department submitted Country Reports on Terrorism 2012 to the U.S. Congress as required by law.  This report provides an assessment of trends and events in international terrorism that occurred during 2012. The Department’s Fact Sheet about the report highlighted the following as the most noteworthy developments of the year:
Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hizballah had a marked resurgence.
The al-Qa’ida (AQ) core in Pakistan continued to weaken.
Tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa have complicated the counterterrorism picture. Leadership losses have driven AQ affiliates to become more independent.
AQ affiliates are increasingly setting their own goals and specifying their own targets.
There is a more decentralized and geographically dispersed terrorist threat.
Although terrorist attacks occurred in 85 different countries in 2012, they were heavily concentrated geographically. As in recent years, over half of all attacks (55%), fatalities (62%), and injuries (65%) occurred in just three countries: Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.
This report was submitted in compliance with 22 U.S.C. § 2656f, which defines “terrorism” for this purpose as ” premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents” while the term “international terrorism” means “terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.”
The Department is statutorily required to identify countries that have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” This year the following four countries were so designated: Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. A subsequent post will examine this absurd designation of Cuba.
Another chapter of the report concerns “terrorist safe havens,” i.e., “ungoverned, under-governed, or ill-governed physical areas where terrorists are able to organize, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, transit, and operate in relative security because of inadequate governance capacity, political will, or both.” The following were identified as such havens: Africa (Somalia, Trans-Sahara and Mali), Southeast Asia (Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral and Southern Philippines), Middle East (Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen), South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and Western Hemisphere (Colombia and Venezuela).
The Secretary of State also is required to designate “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” i.e., foreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity or terrorism or retain the capability and intent to do so and that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the U.S. national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests). This year the report designates 51 such organizations.
In 2012, according to the report, a total of 6,771 terrorist attacks occurred worldwide, resulting in more than 11,000 deaths and more than 21,600 injuries. In addition, more than 1,280 people were kidnapped or taken hostage. The 10 countries with the most such attacks were Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Thailand, Yemen, Sudan, Philippines and Syria.
 A prior post reviewed the State Department’s terrorism report for 2011.
We already have seen that the imposition of criminal sanctions (imprisonment) is one way that we the People of the world seek to enforce international human rights norms.
We also have explored some of the institutions that do this. The International Criminal Court is a permanent body that was created by a separate treaty (the Rome Statute for the ICC) and that encourages and gives precedence to national criminal prosecutions under the principle of complementarity. The U.N. Security Council has created two ad hoc and limited-life courts: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
There also are at least four other special institutions that are authorized to impose such criminal sanctions. They are sometimes called “hybrid tribunals” because they have judges from the concerned country plus international judges.
1. East Timor Serious Crimes Panel
In 1998 the residents of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. In response pro-Indonesian militias launched a brutal campaign of property destruction and human rights abuses. Soon thereafter a U.N. military force entered the territory and restored order, and the U.N. set up the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor.
In 2000 this Administration established a court system that included a Serious Crime Panel, which had jurisdiction over war crimes; crimes against humanity; murder; sexual offenses; and torture. The initial Panel had two international judges and one East Timorese judge. It was located in East Timor. 
By the end of May 2005 the Special Panel had completed more than 55 trials. Most involved relatively low-level defendants; 84 were convicted and 3 acquitted. The work of the Special Panel was cut short by a U.N. decision to end its missions to Timor-Leste.
2. The Special Court for Sierra Leone
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established pursuant to an agreement, dated January 16, 2002, between the Government of that country and the United Nations and the annexed Statute for the Special Court. It has 10 judges; five appointed by the U.N. and five by the Government of Sierra Leone.
The Special Court has jurisdiction over “persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, including those leaders who, in committing such crimes, have threatened the establishment of and implementation of the peace process in Sierra Leone.” The Court’s Statute specifies the following crimes as within its jurisdiction: crimes against humanity; violations of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; certain other serious violations of international humanitarian law; and certain crimes under Sierra Leonean law.
The Special Court, sitting in Freetown, Sierra Leone, has completed trials and appeals of (a) three former leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC); (b) two members of the Civil Defense Forces (CDF); and (c) three former leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Two other individuals who were indicted by the Special Court have died, and their indictments, therefore, were dismissed. Another indictee is at large, and the status of one of the 13 indictees is unknown.
The last of the Special Court’s cases is against former Liberian President Charles Taylor. He was indicted in March 2003 on 17 counts, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, sexual slavery and mutilation. In May 2004, before Taylor was in custody, the Special Court rejected his motion to dismiss the charges on the ground of head-of-state immunity; the court said that it was an international tribunal from which there was no immunity. 
In August 2003 Taylor resigned as President of Liberia and went into exile in Nigeria where he remained until March 2006 when Nigeria transferred him to Liberia. In Liberia U.N. military forces arrested him and took him to the Special Court in Freetown, Sierra Leone to stand trial. Soon thereafter because of security concerns the Special Court asked the Netherlands to accept his transfer to The Hague for trial by the Special Court; the Netherlands agreed to do so after the U.K. agreed to provide a prison for Taylor if he were convicted.
The Taylor trial started in June 2007; the defense phase of the case ended in November 2010; and closing arguments were held in March 2011. The decision of the Special Court is pending.
3. Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
In 2001 the Cambodian National Assembly passed a law to create the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea (Extraordinary Chambers or ECCC). This is a court to try serious crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime 1975-1979. In June 2003 Cambodia and the U.N. reached an agreement detailing how the U.N. will assist and participate in the Extraordinary Chambers.
The ECCC has 12 judges; seven are selected by Cambodia; the other five, by the U.N. The ECCC has jurisdiction over (a) “the crime of genocide as defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide;” (b) “crimes against humanity as defined in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;” (c) “grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions;”and (d) such other crimes as defined in Chapter II of the Cambodian Law on the Establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers as promulgated on 10 August 2001.” The last category includes homicide, torture, religious persecution, destruction of cultural property during armed conflict and crimes against internationally protected persons.
The first case was against Kaing Guek Eav (alias Duch), the former Chairman of the Khmer Rouge Security Center in Phnom Penh. After eight months of trial, the Trial Chamber in July 2010 found him guilty of two charges. First was crimes against humanity (persecution on political grounds) (subsuming the crimes against human extermination [encompassing murder], enslavement, imprisonment, torture [including one instance of rape], and other inhumane acts). Second was grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, namely: – willful killing, – torture and inhumane treatment, – willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, – willfully depriving a prisoner of war or civilian of the rights of fair and regular trial, and -unlawful confinement of a civilian.
The Trial Chamber sentenced Duch to 30 years of imprisonment (after reducing the initial sentence of 35 years). The judgment has been appealed to the Supreme Court of the ECCC.
The second case before the ECCC is against four defendants on charges of crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949; genocide; homicide; torture; and religious persecution. The trial commenced in late June 2011. Almost immediately one of the defendants left the courtroom and is participating by video.
In September 2009, the Prosecutors requested the investigating judges to initiate an investigation of five additional suspected persons. This request was divided into what is known as Case files 003 and 004.
In April 2011 Case 003 the investigating judges rejected the request; an appeal has been filed from this denial.
Case 004, however, is still open. In August 2011 the investigating judges issued an unusual press release saying that they had not notified the public of the crime sites in this case because there were “serious doubts whether the suspects are ‘most responsible’ according to the jurisdictional requirement” and that If the Court had no jurisdiction, it would be inappropriate to identify these sites. However, since there was an increasing amount of speculative and wrong information being published, the investigating judges identified 30 sites in different regions of the country that were involved in this case.
The Cambodian government has opposed the opening of cases 3 and 4, and the ECCC’s rejection of Case 3 and anticipated rejection of Case 4 have generated a lot of controversy.
4. Special Tribunal for Lebanon
In December 2005, the Government of the Republic of Lebanon requested the U.N. to establish a tribunal of an international character to try all those allegedly responsible for the February 2005 attack in Beirut resulting in the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and in the death or injury of other persons. Pursuant to Security Council resolution 1664 (2006), the U.N. and the Lebanese Republic negotiated an agreement on the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Pursuant to that agreement, another Security Council resolution (No. 1757(2007)) and the Statute of the Special Tribunal, the Special Tribunal entered into force in June 2007.
For considerations of justice and fairness, as well as security and administrative efficiency, the seat of the Special Tribunal is located at The Hague (Netherlands).
The mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is to prosecute persons responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 attack resulting in the death of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and in the death or injury of other persons. The Tribunal’s jurisdiction could be extended beyond that attack if the Tribunal finds that other attacks in Lebanon between October 2004 and December 12, 2005, are connected in accordance with the principles of criminal justice and are of a nature and gravity similar to the attack of 14 February 2005.
The Special Tribunal has 9 judges all appointed by the U.N. Secretary-General; three are Lebanese; the other six are from other countries. They are divided into Pre-Trial, Trial and Appeals Chambers.
On June 30, 2011, the Special Tribunal indicted four men, all members of Hezbollah, for the assassination of Hariri. Hezbollah has contended that the Tribunal is a sham and manipulated by the U.S. and Israel. Now the challenge is to serve the warrants and arrest the four defendants.
On August 19, 2011, the Tribunal announced that it would investigate three other attacks that, it said, were related to the attack that killed Hariri. They were an unsuccessful assassination attempt on a former Lebanese telecom minister (Hamadeh) in 2004; the attack and wounding of a former deputy prime minister and defense minister (al-Murr) in 2005; and the killing of a former Communist Party chief and critic of Syria (Hawi) in 2005.
These four special tribunals along with the ICTR and ICTY demonstrate that the U.N. has reacted creatively to situations where nation states need assistance in holding accountable perpetrators of the worst crimes of concern to the international community.
In three instances (East Timor, Sierra Leone and Cambodia) the special tribunals were placed in the country where the crimes occurred, and their proceedings were conducted in the languages of those countries. This helps to bring immediacy to the trials for the affected communities.
When security is a problem for such trials in the affected countries (Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Lebanon), on the other hand, the tribunals have been placed in a respected international center for such institutions (The Hague). The same was true for a specific trial (Charles Taylor) by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
 Post: International Criminal Justice: Introduction (April 26, 2011).
 Post: International Criminal Court: Introduction (April 28, 2011). Other posts relating to the ICC may be found by going to the “tag cloud” in the upper right portion of the blog and double clicking on “International Criminal Court.”
 See Post: International Criminal Justice: Winding Down Two Ad Hoc Criminal Tribunals (June 18, 2011). Other posts relating to the ICTR and the ICTY may be found by going to the “tag cloud” in the upper right portion of the blog and double clicking on “International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda” and “International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.” See also David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin,Joan Fitzpatrick & Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process at 519-22, 536-40(4th ed. 2009)(ICTR)[“Weissbrodt”]; id. at 513-19, 533-36, 540-42 (ICTY).
 E.g., Bakri, Tribunal Names 4 in ’05 Killing of Lebanese Leader, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2011); Bakri, Indictment in Hariri Assassination Is Published, N.Y. Times (Aug. 17, 2011); Crane & Del Ponte, Justice for Hariri’s killers requires the world’s support, Wash. Post (Aug. 16, 2011).
 Reuters, U.N.’s Lebanon Court to Probe Three Hariri-Linked Attacks, N.Y. Times (Aug. 19, 2011).